A number of leading Republicans distanced themselves Sunday from Rudy Giuliani’s claim that President Obama doesn’t love America, saying the former New York City mayor justifiably was criticizing the administration’s foreign policy but simply went too far.
Mr. Giuliani has refused to back down from his controversial comments, first offered at a private dinner last week. Soon after, he doubled down, telling Fox News he didn’t regret the remark and truly questions whether Mr. Obama “loves America.”
“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe the president loves America,” the former mayor said.
His words have put other Republicans in something of a bind, particularly those pondering a White House run in 2016. Many GOP leaders say they agree with the underlying sentiment — that the president’s foreign policy is harming the U.S. — but can’t stand by Mr. Giuliani’s words.
“I don’t want to go there. The nation’s very divided. President Obama has divided us more than he’s brought us together, and I don’t want to add to that division,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and a potential presidential candidate, said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “I have no doubt that he loves his country. I have no doubt that he’s a patriot. But his primary job as president of the United States is to defend this country, and he’s failing miserably.”
Other Republicans said Mr. Giuliani’s words reflect the very real frustration with Mr. Obama’s handling of the Islamic State, Russia’s excursion into Ukraine and other foreign policy issues.
“Everybody knows Rudy articulates his opinions that way,” former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told CNN. “We need to get beyond that. He was expressing frustration in a way I don’t agree with. I don’t doubt the president’s patriotism … at the end of the day, there’s enormous frustration with the president’s leadership, or the lack thereof.”
But other Republicans have been tripped up when asked whether they agree with the former New York mayor, who mounted an unsuccessful presidential bid in 2008.
Over the weekend, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wouldn’t say whether he believes Mr. Obama loves America.
“I’ve never asked him, so I don’t know,” he said.
Other potential Republican presidential candidates, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, each have said it is a mistake to question whether the president loves America.
Meanwhile, Mr. Giuliani said he has received death threats since offering his critique. His words also have given fresh ammunition to Democrats.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said last week he feels “sorry” for Mr. Giuliani.
Others are using the remarks not only to blast Mr. Giuliani but also other Republicans who have refused to condemn the former mayor.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, for example, took direct aim at Mr. Walker, who was at the conservative gathering where Mr. Giuliani made his initial comments.
“Inexplicably, he sat silent when he was feet from Rudy Giuliani the other night and refused to condemn when Rudy Giuliani suggested, and directly said, that our president doesn’t love America and questioned the president of the United States’ patriotism — an unacceptable abdication of leadership,” she said at a party gathering over the weekend.